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Friday, October 28, 2005

Could it be said, or, would it be said?

When critics of English in Bible versions point out how strange or unnatural some translation wording is, one response sometimes is: "Well, but it could be said that way."

I believe that the "could" approach is the wrong way to speak, write, or translate. It typically leads to wordings which make it sound like God and his human helpers don't know our language very well.

A better question to ask is: "Would it be said that way?" This second question honors the rules of a language, patterns which speakers and writers have developed over the long life of that language. Writing or translating with the "would" approach allows for creative usage of one's language. It does not, however, allow for widespread breaking of the rules of a language, so that a composition (including a translation) sounds like it was not written by a native speaker of that language.

The original texts of the Bible were not written in strange Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. The biblical authors generally wrote in a way that followed the rules of the biblical languages. Therefore, we should translate in the same way. It does not accurately reflect the literary quality of the original biblical texts if we translate using strange, unnatural, foreign-sounding English.

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